COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – While the road to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament doesn't get any easier from here, the Tennessee Tech men's basketball team (13-14, 6-6) looks poised to make a run over its final four games, despite hitting the road for three of those contests, including a match-up at in-state rival UT Martin (8-19, 3-9) Thursday evening.
As it has done all season long, head coach Steve Payne's squad will take it one game at a time, focusing solely on defeating the Skyhawks in a 7 p.m. contest at the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center. The Golden Eagles enter the contest having won three of its past four games, with the only bump in the road coming against a hot Morehead State team last Saturday.
UT Martin enters on an eight-day break, having not played since last Wednesday when the team shocked Southeast Missouri on the road in a 79-70 upset. That victory halted a four-game skid for the Skyhawks, leaving a glimmer of hope for a spot in the OVC tournament.
Tennessee Tech (13-14, 6-6) at UT Martin (8-19, 3-9)
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
7 p.m. CT
Kathleen and Tom Elam Center (5,000) – Martin, Tenn.
Radio: 106.1 The Eagle (Roger Ealey)
Webcast: OVC Digital Network
SETTING THE STAGE
Tech versus UT Martin marks one of the Golden Eagles' more successful in-state rivalries, as the program owns a 35-10 advantage.
The series, which began in 1968, didn't really take off until 1993 when the Skyhawks joined the Ohio Valley Conference. Tech has enjoyed much success over that span, including a 14-game winning streak from 1998 to 2004.
Most recently, the Golden Eagles have won each of their past seven match-ups with UT Martin, including defeating the Skyhawks last season by a score of 83-68.
THE LAST TIME THEY MET
It was an unbeatable combination for Tennessee Tech Thursday night. Four players scored in double figures and the team had one of its best shooting nights and top assist totals of the season.
All of that teamwork added up to an 83-68 victory over visiting UT Martin in Eblen Center, and kept Tech's chances of reaching the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference tournament field alive.
Junior Dennis Ogbe scored a career-high 23 points and junior point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas added a career-best nine assists with only one turnover to pace Tech, which improved to 10-16 overall and 4-10 in OVC play.
UT Martin was led by Myles Taylor with 15 points, but slipped to 7-19 overall and 4-10 in league play as the Skyhawks were eliminated from contention for the post-season tourney.
The team effort by coach Steve Payne's team included 52.9 percent accuracy from the field (27-for-51), led by Ogbe's 10-for-13 and a 5-for-6 night from Javon McKay. In addition to 23 points from Ogbe, Jud Dillard scored 21 with four assists, Samarrippas added 14 points, and McKay finished with 11. Freshman Anthony Morse led in rebounds with a game-best eight boards while Ogbe and Terrell Barnes grabbed seven rebounds each.
Joining Taylor in double figures for UTM were Mike Liabo and Bobby Jones with 12 each and Terence Smith with 10. Liabo had six assists to top the Skyhawks on the glass.
Tech jumped to a 10-point lead in the first six minutes, going up 14-4 as Samarrippas and Dillard drained 3-pointers. Tech's lead grew to 18 points (28-10) with 5:36 to play in the opening half as Matt Marseilles hit a 3-pointer.
The Skyhawks, whittled it down to an eight-point difference, 32-24, on a 3-pointer by Liabo with 2:03 to play in the half that capped an 11-2 run.
After shooting 44 percent in the first half and taking a 10-point lead into intermission, 34-24, the Golden Eagles scorched the twine for 61 .5 percent in the second half (16-for-26).
That keyed Tech to a 20-point lead with 14:46 to go in the contest, 54-34. Tech maintained its edge, and led by 20 points, 68-48, with 7:41 remaining, before the Skyhawks rallied again and cut the difference to 12 as Jones made three free throws.
That was as close as UTM could get as the Golden Eagles made nine of their final 10 free throws in the final two minutes.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Senior Dennis Ogbe leads the Tech squad in scoring, averaging 10.3 point per contest. He also leads the Golden Eagles in rebounds, pulling down 5.9 per game.
Junior Dwan Caldwell has played a key role as the big man in the paint for the Golden Eagles. He is second on the team in scoring, averaging 10.2 points per game while grabbing 5.3 boards per contest. He also blocks 1.0 shots per game.
Point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas is the lead dog in assists for the Golden Eagles, averaging 4.2 per game while also leading the way with 45 steals. He tacks on 9.4 points per game as well. In OVC play, he is shooting 37.7 percent from beyond the arc while leading Tech with 11.2 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Redshirt sophomore Josiah Moore is one of six Golden Eagles averaging at least seven points this season, scoring 7.3 per contest. He went off for a career-high 22 points in the upset victory over Belmont and as well as adding a career-best eight rebounds.
Ladon Carter provides great depth off the bench for Tech, ranking second in the OVC in field goal percentage with a .643 mark while scoring 7.5 points per game and pulling down 5.1 rebounds.
JUCO transfer Jordan Johnson has started every conference game this season, shooting 38.0 percent from 3-point range and averaging 6.8 points.
DeOndre Haynes has added a huge spark each of the past four games, coming off the bench for extended playing time. Tech is 3-1 over that span, using the energy from the redshirt freshman to make a push toward the OVC tournament.